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Loch Sinister by Marilyn Ross
Loch Sinister by Marilyn Ross (W. E. D. Ross)
Paperback Library, 1974

[Review contains no spoilers.]

Well, I said I wasn't going to read anymore Ross books, but this one was sitting on my shelf unread, and I decided to give it a whirl since I'd paid for it. For the sake of finding something nice to say about it, I'll give the book credit for slightly softening my opinion of Ross. Whereas before I considered him an unreadable hack, this book proved that he could at least write moderately decent trash when he bestirred himself.

I can't in good conscience recommend Loch Sinister to anyone except the Gothic Romance reader who happens to own the book already and has nothing else to read. As with other Ross novels, the story is fairly uninspired and routine: the young heroine goes off to care for a dying relative in a remote setting peopled with a supporting cast of uniformly saturnine and surly characters. Also in keeping with Ross tradition, the "romance" aspect of the story is awkward and haphazard, as if the author couldn't be bothered to develop it convincingly. The love-interest character abruptly announces his love for the heroine three-quarters of the way through the story, and she abruptly announces her reciprocal feelings. Well, now that that's all wrapped up neatly . . . The reader is left to suppose that with characters so static, thin, and unburdened by development, events in their lives happen randomly and without cause, rather than in arcs.

The setting was at least potentially interesting: "A barren island in the Hebrides [on which] loomed the sinister greystone mansion." Yet Ross never does more than allude to this grim locale in expository dialogue, and describes it only in the barest terms. We are told that the islanders, isolated on such a forlorn part of the world, have gone eerie and wild, but we never see an example of that except in the person of a grotesque undertaker borrowed straight from Scooby-Doo.

The immediate family is also made up of stock players: the plain, frigid spinster-daughter who may have a secret life; the prodigal son back from Australia where he's left behind an unspeakable past (or has he?); the ambiguous and handsome relation with a cruel streak; the arid valet/butler whose duties never seem to keep him in any occupied part of the house for longer than a few seconds at a time . . . and of course the heroine herself, who stands out only because she is so spectacularly nondescript.

I can at least say that the writing in Loch Sinister, scene-for-scene and line-for-line, was markedly better stylistically than other Ross books I've read. At least the prose was cleaner and less ham-fisted than before. Maybe Ross improved with experience. But he still, maddeningly, infuriatingly, hair-pullingly, refused to give up his single worst habit: ending! so! many! sentences! with! exclamation! points! ("And then suddenly a hand reached out of the dark and grabbed her!" End of chapter!)

Grading on a curve, I'd give this book two out of five stars, compared to the usual one star for Ross.
Ross is one of the most amateurish writers I have ever read - very plain writing, with adjectives in wrong places *- but I really like Ghost ship of Fog island (Edwardian setting, old mansion, sweetly innocent and likable heroine, kind hero, beautiful but cruel incestuous siblings (brother seems to be satire of cruel romantic heroes), table discussion about Jack the Ripper, fog, Flying Dutchman-type ghost ship, cleanliness of his language and imagery). Prose is bare bones, Gothic themes are meat and potatoes here.

* "Horrible crime," small lawyer admitted. (Why "small"? So random...)
(04-26-2012, 07:47 PM)romanticdress Wrote: "Horrible crime," small lawyer admitted. (Why "small"? So random...)

Ross's had the dual defect of having too few words where necessary and too many where not. He never turned down an opportunity to throw in three or four superfluous adjectives or adverbs, because, you know, god forbit the word "said" should get lonely.

Thus he was prone to "Swifties." That is to say unnecessary qualifiers, especially following a line of dialogue. The term was coined (I forget by whom) to poke fun at the less-than-stellar prose churned out by the Stratemeyer fiction factory (Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, et al.).

For instance: "Do your worst!" Tom said bravely.

This bad habit is related to Ross's tendency to add, as you say, random descriptives for characters that have already been described, in places where it's extremely distracting. E.g., "Pleased to meet you," said lithe, Titian-haired Nancy Drew. "I've never met a real count before!" gushed the slender eighteen-year-old Nancy. And so on.

Various authors have come up with some memorable "Swifties":

"Gee, lady, you've got a nice butt," Tom said cheekily.

"Get your own pizza," he said crustily.

"I've dropped my toothpaste!" she said, crestfallen.

& cetera.

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